Thursday, February 4, 2010

Showshoeing in Yosemite - Now is the Time!

The approaching snow storm in the Sierra's reminds me that for the next couple of months, the conditions are great for donning the winter gear and putting on your snowshoes. One of my first articles on Bay Area Outdoors and Beyond was a snowshoe hike up to Dewey Point in Yosemite. In fact, that hike is featured in the latest issue of Backpacker Magazine (March 2010, page 29). This is a great hike and definitely doable as a day hike or overnight-er. You can check out the hike from the previous article or at Backpacker Magazine.

By no means is Dewey Point the only snowshoe hiking in Yosemite. There are a number of great winter trails available in the park and they are not just for snowshoes either. Many cross-country or Nordic skiers also partake.

Why snowshoe? Not only is it great exercise, it also is a way to see Yosemite in a way few people ever do. Winter is my favorite time to be in Yosemite. The crowds are diminished and the trails offer solitude and scenery most only found in picture books.

Yosemite has three main areas containing marked winter trails: Badger Pass and Glacier Point Road, Crane Flat and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (Click on the preceding links for brochures and trail maps for each area). The Valley Loop Trail in Yosemite Valley can also provide some great snowshoeing if enough snow has accumulated.

Badger Pass is the home of the Badger Pass Ski Resort, but it also has the most hiking options. Badger Pass even offers a Ranger guided snowshoe walk ($5 donation requested, conditions permitting). Dewey Point is by far the most popular of the routes, but each of the trails provides an adventure.

Crane Flat is located at the intersection of Big Oak Flat Road and the Tioga Road (Hwy 120). The Gin Flat Loop Trail is the most adventurous of the hikes, but the short hike down to the Tuolumne Grove is my favorite. I did this hike last year during a moderate snow storm and it took my breath away. The 2 mile round trip hike (I went beyond the grove for a 3 mile trip) is straight forward and descends down to Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias where the Tunnel Tree is a main feature. Unfortunately, it is just a shell of what it once was. Human intervention seems to do that. Most of the "Tunnel Trees" I've been to have fallen or are dead. While not as grand as the Mariposa Grove, the trees Tuolumne Grove are just as inspiring.

Getting to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias can be tricky in the winter months. The road to the grove is often closed in the winter and it is a 2-mile trek to get to the trails. However, it is well worth it. You're out there for the snowshoeing and sightseeing anyways! The longest trail is the Loop Road (8 miles) and provides access to most of the more popular trees in the park, Fallen Monarch, Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Many hikers, I mean snowshoers, opt for the lower grove hike (.8 miles one way) featuring the trees mentioned previously.

When snowshoeing or cross country skiing, be aware of the weather forecast and your physical condition. Be aware of avalanche conditions; most of the winter trails in Yosemite avoid avalanche areas, but check with the Ranger Station for conditions and warnings. Don't forget to hydrate; your body still needs plenty of water, even though you may not feel like it in the cold. If you are new or inexperienced for snowshoeing, start out with smaller hikes first. Know what you are getting into. Snowshoeing on a hard-packed snow trail is a lot different from two feet of fresh powder. Breaking a trail can be exhausting; take turns leading the way with your group. If you are following, try to step into the leaders footprints when you can.

Snowshoeing is a fun sport and just about anyone can do it. Snowshoe rentals are available in the valley and at Badger Pass and also at your local REI store. It is a great way to wash away the winter blues and energize your spirit. Now is the time!